Byron Bay locals say damage to the town’s main beach is “the worst in a generation” as heavy rain, abnormally high tides and wild surf, combined with long term erosion problems, washed away much of the remaining sand.
Storms have battered a 1,000km stretch of the Queensland and northern NSW coastline for several days with conditions not expected to ease until Tuesday morning. Strong winds and heavy rainfall have caused damage and flash flooding in both states.
Residents had been warned the weather system, which is moving in the opposite direction to a tropical cyclone, would strike with the same intensity as a category one storm.
At Byron Bay, 8 metre-high waves and a large storm surge coincided with one of the largest spring tides of the year.
A local resident of some 20 years, Michael Deeny, said he’d never seen the beach stripped of so much sand.
“It looks like it’s been hollowed out, it really is incredible,” he said.
Coastal management experts say the situation at Byron Bay is particularly bad because of erosion that has been occurring over months and years.
“Because of that there’s no sand there to protect the beach when you get a storm like this,” said Tom Murray, a research fellow at the Griffith University Centre for Coastal Management.
“There’s no buffer there and you’ve got big high tides, a relatively large storm surge and these big waves coinciding. It looks pretty bad and the community is saying it’s the worst [erosion] in a generation.”
Murray co-authored a piece for the Conversation last month that explained how long-term erosion at Byron’s Main Beach was largely caused by natural processes. A “sand slug” has built up on the northern side of Cape Byron and was blocking the natural migration of sand through the bay.
Wind gusts have been as high as 104km/h at Cape Byron. Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive Steve Pearce told reporters the conditions had caused “the largest coastal erosion we’ve seen in many years”.
Heavy rainfall was recorded in coastal areas from Bundaberg in Queensland to northern NSW and authorities had warned people to expect the worst. Storm warnings extended as far south as Newcastle.
Mark Ryan, the Queensland emergency services minister, told the ABC that the impact from the weather event “will be similar to a category-one cyclone event”.
The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services commissioner, Greg Leach, said the storms represented “a significant change in the weather pattern in Queensland”.
“Only last week we were dealing with bushfire situations and now the big wet has arrived … and so we need to be prepared not only for the weather we are dealing with now but we’re likely to see over the coming month,” he said.
Waves cut through the beach at the northern tip of Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, into Pumicestone Passage. On the Gold Coast hinterland, a significant landslide caused large boulders to fall onto Tamborine Mountain Road.
Sunshine and Gold Coast beaches were closed as authorities prepared for the significant storms forecast on Monday night. The Gold Coast mayor, Tom Tate, said that while the city was holding up well, the risk remained. “We may receive another 300mm rainfall,” he said.
Some areas of the NSW northern rivers area recorded 400mm of rain in less than 48 hours. The extreme weather lashing the state’s northern coast will continue to intensify with the dangerous rainfall and strong winds to continue unabated overnight.
The NSW State Emergency Service has rescued four people, including a woman who was swept away when she tried to leave her car after getting caught in floodwaters.
BOM senior meteorologist Laura Boekel said the weather was being generated by a coastal trough off the south-east coast and a slow-moving upper low over the south-east.
“The focus of heavy falls will be highly dependent on the location of the trough and upper trough, but is likely to be south of Fraser Island contracting to the Gold Coast by this afternoon and easing further from Tuesday,” Boekel said.
The bureau is warning there will be more showers and storms next week with those conditions continuing up until Christmas.